First woman Secretary-General brings new hope to UN disarmament
Tatiana Valovaya, the first woman to be named Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD), brings new hope to one the UN’s most vexed bodies which has been struggling against paralysis for almost two decades.
An economist and former Russian journalist and diplomat, she is also the first woman to head the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Some hope that she may be the long-awaited forerunner to a woman’s appointment to head the UN in New York after a few years.
In her maiden speech to the CD today, she called for better gender balance in disarmament matters. “I believe women can bring a different outlook and experience to disarmament related discussions. It is also well known that there is still a disparity in terms of participation of women and men in disarmament,” she said.
The CD is the chief UN forum intended to bring together countries, including the US, Russia and China, to negotiate collective responses to global challenges of disarmament. It has been a key instrument of multilateral disarmament and arms control for 40 years but is floundering now because of the widely disparate agendas of its member states.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres raised red flags at the 65-nation body last February, saying “key components of the international arms control architecture are collapsing”.
Arguing for more political goodwill and urgency, Valovaya warned: “In reality, the current escalation of tensions globally is severely jeopardizing the acquis of disarmament, non-proliferation and the entire body of the existing instruments.”
Current geopolitical dynamics signal “a bigger-than-ever need for this Conference to succeed, as the forum intended to provide collective responses to global challenges to peace and security”.
To move forward, the CD must deliver on its core mandate to “negotiate and agree new instruments governing complex, sensitive and urgent issues of national and international security, issues that impact on every living being on this planet,” Valovaya said. It must also modernize working methods, strengthen inclusiveness, and bring a greater continuity to its work.
But those things are easier said than done because enthusiasm for disarmament ebbs and flows with military rivalries among the world’s major military powers, including the US, Russia, China and India. All pay lip service to disarmament but each maneuvers to retain its own freedoms to develop new and more devastating weapon systems both conventional and nuclear.
The CD and its predecessors have painstakingly built the main elements of the world’s current arms control architecture. They negotiated the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques; the Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil thereof; the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction; the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction; and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
Emerging challenges include the use of artificial intelligence to wage war from outer space; cyber weapons; and new generations of sophisticated nuclear weapons and lethal autonomous weapons that strike targets without human control.
Some of these things sound like science fiction but are just a few steps beyond semi-autonomous drones used currently by the world’s major military powers.